How Does the Department of State Count Visa Denials? Or “When is a Visa Refusal Not a Refusal?”

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In our previous blog, we highlighted the worldwide B visa refusal rates.  But those DOS published rates do not convey the entire picture. As any politician knows, when making any tally, the actual number is not important, but how one determines that number that is. The Department of State is no different.

The Department of State publishes adjusted refusal rates.  The actual refusal rates are not published.  In all likelihood the actual refusal rate is higher, and perhaps in some circumstances, substantially so.

So how does the DOS “adjust” its statistics?  It does so by only counting the last consular action on a particular applicant in a fiscal year. For example, if a businessman applied for a visa and was denied two times in 2015, and on his third attempt, he receives a visa in 2015, only the issuance will be counted; the two refusals will not be counted.  If he did not apply the third time, only his second refusal will be counted; the first refusal will not count in calculating the adjusted refusal statistics. And while the opposite is true – only a denial will count in a situation when an applicant is issued a visa in a fiscal year; later reapplies in the same year (e.g., the visa was only for three months); and then is denied a visa – these situations are significantly less frequent.

The difference may seem trivial, but it deliberately understates the actual visa refusal rate.  In addition, it does not reflect the millions of dollars received by the Department of State from visa re-applicants.  It disregards the initial refusals and perpetuates the “conveyor belt” system; after all, the applicant can always apply again, return for another interview, and he will only count once.   While it is understandable that the Department of State does not want “serial” re-applicants from impacting the refusal rate, at the very least, it should publish the number of such applications, or publish the actual refusal rate.  Transparency requires it.